Is virtual school really cheaper? Are school districts saving money with remote learning? What will full recovery and reopening really cost? In this three-part series, we’ll explore some of the hidden costs of COVID-19 for families and school districts as they navigate remote, hybrid, and reopening for in-person instruction.
Part 3: The Cost of Recovery
The COVID-19 pandemic has created the worst-case scenario for all stakeholders from a cost standpoint. School districts must operate above and beyond normal capacity by simultaneously offering virtual schools programs and maintaining costs for assets that are not easily “turned off” or eliminated because they must be held in reserves for reopening. Meanwhile, families are also burdened with many of the transferred costs of a fully remote program, particularly childcare.
Back in April, the superintendents of the largest districts in the country requested an additional $202B from Congress in stabilization funding, anticipating the massive costs associated with spinning up remote instruction and/or safe school spaces this Fall. The American Federation of Teachers released their own cost analysis for reopening in June with a price tag of $116.5B. Every cost analysis from major education organizations far exceeds the meager $13B allocated to schools in the CARES Act.
Short of fully reopening schools, families are also incurring additional costs for childcare and must also receive supplemental funding to meet these new needs at home. Derrell Bradford and Marc Porter Magee of 50CAN have proposed “$2,000 direct payment per child to families up to 200% above the poverty line and a $8,000 tax credit for families up to 400% above the poverty line.” Rather than one-time payments or credits, I would recommend prorating the average cost of childcare and paying households with children an additional $1200/month until schools have fully reopened—about $11B per month.
To date, Congress has issued $669B in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding for small businesses. Small businesses employ nearly 59 million people; public schools educate 50.7 million students and employ another 6.6 million people—and yet Congress has only allocated them $13B. This is a gross imbalance of support, a damning indictment of our national priorities, and choice that will have economic reverberations for a generation. Congress should approve $200B for direct support to schools, $5B to expand eRate for home internet access, $45.6B for universal school meals or direct EBT payment to families, and $132.5B for 3 months retroactive and 9 months forward child care supplements to households with children. The total bill: $383B; a little more than half of what has been provided for small businesses—a bargain, for the future of our economy.
The costs for addressing the COVID crisis are extraordinarily high and these costs will continue to mount for as long as the virus continues to spread. However, these costs are still a small price to pay when compared with the potential economic devastation our nation would face in the event of total economic collapse and depression. Our government stepped up to help protect the jobs of 59 million people employed by small businesses. Now Congress must also step up to protect the education of 50.7 million students and jobs of 6.6 million public school employees. Shoring up our public education system during this crisis will protect tens of trillions of dollars in economic productivity over the next generation—a very good return on investment.
This article is Part 3 of our three-part series, The Cost of COVID-19 for Schools & Families, which examines the hidden costs of COVID-19 on families and school districts.